UF gymnasts open title defense at NCAA regional


Florida's Bridget Sloan competes on the beam against Georgia at the O'Connell Center on Jan. 24. Florida defeated Georgia 198.05 to 196.7 and had the fifth-highest team score in school history.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 4, 2014 at 9:27 p.m.

Saturday in the Penn State University Rec Hall, the top-ranked Florida gymnastics team begins defense of the program's first NCAA title when the Gators are joined by five other teams for the University Park Regional beginning at 4 p.m.

Facts

NCAA gymnastics

Who: No. 1 Florida (15-2) at NCAA University Park Regional Championships
When: Saturday at 4 p.m.
Where: Rec Hall at Penn State

UF has not competed since finishing second at the SEC Championships on March 22, and coach Rhonda Faehn noted it was a welcome break from the grind of competition.

“It's been wonderful,” she said. “It was definitely needed. We were able to give the athletes a little bit of downtime after coming back from SECs, so they got kind of a few days' break from doing full routines. When you've been doing them for 3 1/2 months straight, it gets a little tiring.

“It was really a nice benefit to have those few days to not do full routines, but really kind of break down the routines again and do individual skill work. It gave them a little bit of rest both mentally and physically, which was great because they were charged up again when we started going really hard.”

This is the ninth straight year Florida has been a top regional seed, and the Gators are the only team in their regional field to have advanced to last year's NCAA Championships.

Joining UF will be No. 12 Oregon State, No. 15 and host Penn State, No. 23 New Hampshire, No. 29 Kentucky and No. 36 Maryland. The top two teams will move on to compete at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Birmingham, Ala., April 18-20.

The Gators won the program's 13th regional title last year in Gainesville — their eighth in the last nine years under Faehn — en route to winning their first NCAA crown.

“We've just been practicing and polishing up everything,” sophomore All-American Bridget Sloan said. “Rhonda always emphasizes that for postseason, it's not really about whether you're going to make the routine or not, because we know we're going to make it. It's going to be whether you want it, how bad you want it, and how well you're going to do. We've really been focusing on the smallest details.”

While the Gators, who came up just short of winning their third straight SEC title two weeks ago, weren't thrilled with their runner-up finish, they quickly put it in the rear-view mirror.

“Practices have been going great,” junior All-American Kytra Hunter said. “After SECs, we came back like usual and watched film, and we definitely saw just all the little things that we could fix. Honestly, we did a great job, and we just need to carry that over to regionals and nationals and just keep our enthusiasm up.”

Faehn feels it was a good learning experience for a team that opponents have been aiming at all season.

“Perhaps it was tough for them to say, 'Hey, why do we have this target on our back?'” Faehn said. “I think they felt like that before SECs, but I don't think they feel like that anymore. I think they feel that they have something to prove.”

The Gators know what is at stake.

“The team is very excited, because this is the best part of the season,” junior standout Rachel Spicer said. “We don't need to change anything up. We just need to go in and have fun like we always do, and we'll hit our routines.”

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